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- Geographic tongue is a benign oral inflammatory condition that can occur during pregnancy due to hormonal changes. Patches appear on the surface of the tongue, often with slightly raised borders. The lesions often heal in one area and then move to a different part of the tongue.
My mouth contains a map of the world. Sketched out on the vellum of my tongue, it is an ever-shifting picture of land mass and sea. Archipelagos spread out, red islands with grey borders, barely above sea level. I imagine island-hopping the length of the muscle of my tongue and then getting stranded in the erosions and reconstitutions that occur overnight.
During lockdown, I can’t go anywhere. No holidays, no weekends away, no last-minute trips. I let my tongue do the travelling for me.
- In the third trimester of pregnancy, weight gain of up to one pound a week is to be expected.
I lumber to the bathroom to perform my bodily checks. My skin is stretched so tight that it itches. I feel like a snake just before it sheds its skin. Younger snakes shed their skin up to every two weeks, a process that is governed by their hormones. The thought of slithering out of this taut wrapper and into a new, roomier one is appealing.
Stepping onto the electric scales, I hesitate, as if I can sneak up on this digital god of weight. The number spirals up and up, where is it going to stop?
Next I use the measuring tape to gauge how much the circumference of this globe has expanded overnight. I jot down the figures each day, neatly, methodically, plotting a course, as if I am the master of this ship, captain of this corpus.
- The Linea Nigra appears during pregnancy due to an increase in melanin production.
A purplish line bisects my abdomen, running from my pubic bone up to my belly button, before fading into the hinterland of my chest. I look it up on the internet (where else?). It existed before, this line, but it was invisible, the “Linea Blanca.” I was always marked with this animal stripe splitting me in two, I just couldn’t see it.
I’m at the stage of pregnancy where my body stops at my belly now. To see all of my bump, I need the help of the mirror. I look like a prawn, I think, as I turn this way and that in front of my reflection, examining my new markings.
I used to help my mother prepare the prawns for curry, cutting out the black ribbon of intestinal tract running down the centre of their bodies. With a small knife, I would trace the line down its back, making a slight incision, and then scrape out the black gunk with the handle of a teaspoon before washing its grey and white body under the tap.
- During pregnancy, the baby growing in its mother’s womb needs plenty of calcium to develop its skeleton. If the mother doesn’t get enough calcium, her baby will draw what it needs from the mother’s bones.
I drink my milk and eat yoghurt by the spoonful, wondering how much I need to eat to keep this parasitic being fed. How much is enough for you? I ask, rubbing my bump to get the parasite’s attention. I imagine it slowly sucking all the calcium out of my bones. Which bones would it start with? I wonder. The ones closest in proximity – the pelvic bones perhaps? I picture my pelvis cracking, crumbling, crushed to dust.
Bones have a honeycomb structure. I heard it on a radio programme. It stuck in my head because the researcher likened bone’s cellular structure to a Crunchie bar. I love a Crunchie. Straight from the fridge, I dip it in my tea until the honeycomb collapses into sugary shards in my mouth.
I dream about honeycombs and bees. In my dream, my mother is wearing a white beekeeper suit with black netting around her face, like a widow. She holds a wooden tray of honeycomb, pulsing with a mass of bees. She gestures to me to come to her.
“I can’t!” I shout over the angry drone, pointing to my unprotected body.
“Come!” she waves, insistent.
- Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause mood swings. Oestrogen works throughout the entire body and is active in the region of the brain that regulates mood. It is associated with anxiety, irritability, and depression.
I feel more irritable, sure, a crankiness lurks just under the surface. But what the pregnancy books don’t tell me is that I will turn into a wolverine. Wolverines are strong and aggressive for their size, often taking on animals much larger than themselves. Walking in the park, a kid on a scooter narrowly misses crashing into me and my bump. I bare my teeth and roar, not caring that this is a juvenile, that it was an accident avoided. My hands turn to claws and reach out to protect my belly, ready to draw blood. Up ahead, the kid’s mother hears my snarl and turns around. My jaw is clenched ready to snap.
- Leg cramps are common during pregnancy, although the exact cause is unclear.
I discover through trial and error that there are certain positions that will bring on my leg cramps. I have to remember not to stretch my legs out in bed when I first wake, as any point of my toes can bring on a vice-like cramp that makes me cry out.
I forget one day in the bath. Submerged under water, only my belly and breasts protrude. I soak away my aches, revel in the support of the water, and its soothing heat. As the water cools, I use my toe to turn on the hot tap. I forget not to flex and quick as a shark attack, my leg spasms into an iron knot, and I forget that I don’t have the use of my abdominal muscles to sit, so I flail, thrash about in the water, trying to reach my foot.
- As the uterus expands with the growing foetus, it moves up and out, displacing organs like the stomach and lungs, which can cause heartburn and shortness of breath.
Taking a deep breath is difficult. Some days I fully expect to wake up with my lungs nestled around my neck like a stole. They would be more comfortable there perhaps, at least having space to inflate and deflate with ease.
My stomach is similarly squashed. After a small meal, I get acid reflux if I’m not careful. The stomach is a J-shaped bag. If it was detachable, I’d hook it over the crook of my elbow, like a useful handbag, and treat it with the respect it deserves.
- A high sugar diet during pregnancy is linked to larger babies and childhood obesity. Even small variations in blood sugar levels can influence the growth of the baby in the womb.
After losing my appetite to constant nausea in the first trimester, it returns in the second, and builds up to a roaring greed in the third. In lockdown, food is one of the few pleasures left and it is constantly on my mind. Sugar cravings arrive in force. I long for anything sweet: chocolates, biscuits, cakes, muffins. I dream of café counters cluttered with baskets piled high with pastries fresh out of the oven, or cakes dusted with icing sugar displayed like works of art under glass domes. I fantasize about dunking cinnamon buns into milky lattes. I buy tins of salted caramels from France, unwrapping the cellophane, and letting them melt on my tongue until I am compelled to chew. I fill my basket with Florentines, their jewelled faces twinkling at me in the supermarket aisle. I stock up on selection boxes at Christmas, telling myself that the smaller sized bars will “be good for portion control.” In truth, I am like an addict: one treat leads to another and another. The guilt comes later, then the panic; what am I doing to my baby?
A friend of mine loves foie gras; he orders it when we meet up for dinner in fancy restaurants. I avert my eyes and try not to look as he spreads this beige goop onto slices of thin toast. I have an image in my mind of farmers lining up rows of geese, fitting steel tubes into their throats, force feeding them fatty foods that swell their liver to an unnatural size.
Am I now the goose farmer? I think as I rub my bump, full of remorse.
- Baby’s movements can sometimes be felt as early as 16 weeks of pregnancy, but most women usually feel something between 18 and 24 weeks. It is a myth that baby’s movements decrease in the third trimester.
Baby is an active one. What once was a delicate butterfly flutter deep in my abdomen is now a robust kick under my ribs, or a protruding foot pushing out of my skin. Sometimes there is a darting jumble of movement, like a bag of kittens.
My mother grew up beside a river. As a child, she told me stories of people drowning kittens in sacks filled with rocks, as I imagined their terrified mewls. In a working-class neighbourhood, kittens were just one more mouth to feed.
“Feel that,” I say to my husband, grabbing his hand and placing it on the watermelon orb of my belly, running it over the hard and knobbly lump.
“What’s that?!” he says alarmed, snatching his hand away.
“You’ve seen Alien, right? That scene with John Hurt?”
He says nothing, not rising to my teasing, the physicality of it too much. He prefers to think of baby in the abstract. Sweet-smelling and swaddled in fluffy blankets.
Colonised, marked, fed upon, my body is not my own now. Abstraction is a luxury I do not have.
I rub the bump and feel the bony body part move underwater again.